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An Interview

with

John Frizzell, Film Composer

 

 

 

 

Roger Hall, FMR Editor:
First, let me say that I have admired your film scores over the years.  I especially liked your score for GODS AND GENERALS and chose it for a Sammy Award for Best Overlooked Score in 2003.  I’d like to focus on that score if you don’t mind, because of its story that concerns the early years of the Civil War which ties-in with the 150th anniversary which begins this year.  Can you tell our readers how this film score was to be composed, mostly by you, with a few added cues by Randy Edelman?

John Frizzell:
Randy and I are good friends.  He was scheduled to score the entire film but then the release date of Rob Cohen’s film changed so Randy was finishing that film.  Randy had already written a few themes which everyone loved, so when Ron Maxwell (the writer-director) and Randy asked me to score GODS AND GENERALS, it just made sense to incorporate the work Randy had already done. 

 

RH: Who decided which composer would do which cue?

JF: I used Randy’s themes in various places of the film, so I guess that was determined by myself and Ron Maxwell.

 

RH: I found your theme first heard with “You Must Not Worry For Us” and again on “To The Stone Wall” as very moving cues. Can you tell how this beautiful cue was composed?


JF: Hmm..I don’t really know quite honestly.  I think I just wrapped my mind in the imagery and emotion of the film, trying to draw on what the people in the Civil War must have really felt.  I tried to write something that would move people in a way that would cause them to think of an alternative to violence and war.  A lofty goal I know, and probably unattainable, but that is my attempt at it.  I like to think about where a melody is just before I ‘compose‘ it.  And (ok, this is pretty nerdy, so hold on) I like to remind myself that the entire universe is encoded in the number pi. Therefore any music that has been ‘composed‘ or will be composed already exists in the number pi. So I guess a composer is just ‘introducing‘ a melody to human cognition - temporarily of course, while we humans exist.  I also love strawberry rhubarb pie.


RH: Another cue I thought was especially poignant was “My Home Is Virginia.”  I know this was composed by Randy Edelman. Do you have any comments to make about his participation on the soundtrack?   

JF: Randy writes one hell of a melody.  He is a genius. I wish I was as good as him.



RH: Were there any cues in the score that gave you special problems?


JF: "VMI Will be Heard From Today" was really challenging to record.  It is a sort of an ‘apocalyptic bolero’... not much music there, just a lot of rhythm, orchestration and drive and build.  It took all day, but they nailed it!



RH: There were many orchestrators involved, I believe it was 9 of them, who worked on the GODS AND GENERALS score. Were they chosen because of the time pressure or some other reason? 

JF: I recorded over three hours of score.  It took two people just to carry the boxes of scores to the recording studio.  I don’t even know how many pages it was, but there are definitely less trees because of it (ha). So I put together a big team of great orchestrators.

RH: Did you have any involvement in the choice of songs by Mary Fahl or Bob Dylan?

JF: I love the songs, but I was not involved.

RH: Is there any music you composed for the film that didn’t make it to the  soundtrack CD?  If so, would you like to see an expanded CD or DVD isolated track someday?

JF: There is enough for two more CD’s.  I would really like to see at least one more CD come out.  I think at this point it is up to the fans to ask the label to do it.  That will probably get a response.

 

RH: Do you have anything else you would like to add about the GODS AND GENERALS score?

JF: It was just a great experience and I made lifelong friends. I felt deeply honored to get to compose music about such an important, terrible, and liberating, time in my country’s history. I hope my work is a tiny contribution to what it means to be human. I just want to evoke emotions with organized sound.

 

RH: Thank you Mr. Frizzell for this interview. I hope film music fans will support the effort to get more of your music from GODS AND GENERALS released on CD.

 

For more information about him go to:

The Official John Frizzell Site


Read about the film at this link:

GODS AND GENERALS

 

 

CD Retro Review

 

Editor's Choice -

Best Of The Month

February 2003  

  

 

Gods & Generals

 

GODS AND GENERALS soundtrack (Sony CD + DVD)

Score by John Frizzell and Randy Edelman,
Songs by Mary Fahl and Bob Dylan

 

Disc 1:   CD - 19 Tracks (Total Time = 62:00)

Disc 2:  Limited Edition Bonus DVD ( 24 minutes)

Track 1 produced by Jeffrey Lesser.  Track 19 produced by Jack Frost. Tracks 2-18 produced by John Frizzell and Randy Edelman.  Orchestra conducted by Nick Ingman (except for track 13, conducted by Randy Edelman).  

Recorded and mixed by Rick Winquest.  Music Editor: Lisa Jaime.   Digital Audi Engineer: Tom Trafalski.  Orchestrations:  Andrew Kinney, Jeff Atmajian, Frank Bennett, Bruce Babcock, Stuart Balcolm, Robert Elhai, Don Nemitz, Lolita Ritmanis, Carl Rydlund.  Music Scoring Coordinator: Jon McBride.

Sony Music Soundtrax SK 87891

Rating: ****

After listening to this soundtrack the first time I thought this was an effective soundtrack.  The more I've listened to it, the more I've grown to appreciate it.  There were many musicians involved in assembling the soundtrack - several songwriters, nine orchestrators, and two composers. What they have turned out is a superb soundtrack.    

The  first track is a very sensitive song, "Going Home" (4:56) sung by Mary Fahl.  She co-wrote the song with Glen Patscha and Bryon Isaacs.  Thankfully, the words to this heartfelt song are included in the CD foldout.

Then the score begins with "Gods and Generals" (3:42), which features a wordless chorus and a highly emotional dynamic theme. To avoid any confusion as to who wrote what on this soundtrack, here's the rundown:

John Frizzell =  tracks 2-6, 9-12, 15-18 = 13 tracks

Randy Edelman = tracks 7-8, 13 = 4 tracks

John Frizzell & Randy Edelman = track 14

Mary Fahl = track 1

Bob Dylan = track 19

So it's obvious that Frizzell made the largest contribution to this excellent soundtrack.  For example, his lovely sensitive treatment of the Gods and Generals theme on track 4, "Loved I Not Honor More" (3:13).  This writing is as good as any recent film composer's efforts, including John Williams.  Just about every track has something memorable to offer.  Just to give one outstanding cue, there is track 10: "To the Stone Wall" (3:41), with its glorious use of horns and strings.

There are two prominent musicians who assist on a few tracks:   Mark O'Connor on violin (or fiddle), and Paddy Moloney on tin whistle and uilleann pipe.  The tracks which these two musicians play on are entirely appropriate ones. For example, track 9, "These Brave Irishmen" (2:51).  Why not use traditional instruments for such a cue?         

Now turning to Randy Edelman, I was a bit surprised that he didn't to do the entire score since he had already done the well received score for GETTYSBURG back in 1993 (Milan CD).  Even though he composed only a few cues for GODS AND GENERALS, they are among the best on the whole soundtrack.  Just listen to track 13: "My Home Is Virginia" (4:24).  If I lived in the beautiful countryside of Virginia, I'd be very proud to have this lovely theme represent my homeland.  The opening of this track brought tears to my eyes.   Randy Edelman certainly has a great gift for writing memorable themes.  My question is - who orchestrated this gorgeous cue?  I believe this is one of the most moving pieces of film music I've heard in quite some time.  And Edelman himself conducted it.  It's a glorious piece of work.  

Though it's a bit jarring after all the great score cues, Bob Dylan's rambling and longwinded song, "'Cross the Green Mountain" (8:12), is okay.  His vocal sounds like he was recording it far apart from the musicians. At least it's the final track so you can edit out if you wish. Having the lyrics to his song included in the foldout might have helped.  But his songs are so cryptic and hard to follow, it probably wouldn't help much .

The DVD disc features a Theatrical Trailer, some interesting bonus footage from GODS AND GENERAL (including the singing of a Civil War song, "Kathleen Mavourneen"), and music videos of the Mary Fahl and Bob Dylan songs.  This material is a welcome extra gift.

For me the highpoints of this 2 disc release are the magnificent score cues by Frizzell and Edelman, whose music is seamlessly mixed together with the assistance of their team of talented orchestrators.  The Mary Fahl song is also a standout.  

After listening to this excellent soundtrack, I appreciate the film even more.  Isn't that what a soundtrack release should do for a listener?  

Most movie critics have heaped their scorn on this film, complaining about the long speeches and even the overuse of music.  But I suspect that many more filmgoers will enjoy this film, even though it is nearly 4 hours.  It also has a 15 minute intermission, like it used to be many years ago with those big scale epics from the past, like HOW THE WEST WAS WON. 

Today is an appropriate day for this review. It is the birthday of the great US President, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). GODS AND GENERALS also pays to another great leader from the Civil War era, Robert E. Lee (brilliantly played by Robert Duvall).

Just as Lincoln and Lee are worth remembering, the same is true for John Frizzell and Randy Edelman. As the film's director, Ronald F. Maxwell, writes about them in his CD notes:  " John and Randy have succeeded in creating an emotional soundscape which perfectly surrounds and embodies the film's protagonists, their passions, their hopes, and loss."

These two film composers deserve that high praise for making GODS AND GENERALS a soundtrack worth many repeated listenings.

What a wonderful soundtrack release! A winner all the way.  

Highest recommendation.   

-- Roger Hall, 12 February 2003

 

GODS AND GENERALS soundtrack (Sony CD + DVD)


 

 

 

GODS AND GENERALS (Extended Director's Cut, Blu-Ray)

 

If you enjoy Civil War music, you can order
this new commemorative multi-media CD-ROM
with Listener's Guide and music album...

Read more at this link:

Glory, Hallelujah - Songs and Hymns of the Civil War Era

 


 

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